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Posts Tagged ‘"The Diplomat"’

Keri Russell, Rufus Sewell

“THE DIPLOMAT”  (Netflix): “West Wing”-quality political intrigue snuggles up to “Veep”-level satire in “The Diplomat,” a torn-from-the-headlines effort that functions simultaneously as real-world drama and nifty sexual comedy.

Keri Russell stars as Kate Wyler, an American diplomat whose speciality is bringing humanitarian relief to Middle Eastern hot spots.  As this eight-episode first season gets underway, she’s called to the Oval Office where the Prez (Michael McKean) tells her she’s going to be the new Ambassador to Great Britain…like right now.

What Kate doesn’t know is that the Big Guy, in cahoots with her charming/rule-breaking diplomat husband Hal (Rufus Sewell in what may be his best role ever), has tapped her to replace the current Vice President, a woman who’s about to get the boot because of her spouse’s financial improprieties.  A high-profile gig at the Court of St. James should pump up Kate’s bona fides.

What the President doesn’t know (because Hal is such a slick schemer) is that the Wylers are planning to split…and a recently divorced woman as Veep is out of the question. So Hal has another reason to rekindle the marital bonfire (aside from the fact that he’s impotent with any woman who is not Kate).

And that’s just the background. Most of this season unfolds in London where Kate and Hal are plopped down in the midst of an international crisis.  A British warship has been attacked in the Gulf of Arabia.  The Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear), eager to reverse his wimpish image, is ready to rain hellfire on Iran for the deaths of English sailors…except that maybe Iran is being framed by some other nation. 

It’s up to Kate to bring some sanity and caution to the situation…all the while getting extremely sexy vibes from the recently widowed British foreign secretary (David Gyasi).

The pacing is brisk, with plenty of sideshows for supporting characters and some nifty plot twists. The dialogue is some of the best out there.

And the perfs are, well, perfect.  Russell excels as an all-business statesperson who prefers plain black pants suits to ball gowns; half the time she appears not to be wearing any makeup and her hair is an afterthought. Of course when she does gussie up, it’s worth the wait.

Sewell is so good you don’t mind Hal’s occasional mansplaining session (it’s part of his allure), and McKean and Kinnear find ways to reference such figures as Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson without slipping into caricature or overt imitation.

Olivia Colman, Fionn Whitehead

“GREAT EXPECTATIONS” (Hulu): Well, it’s not your father’s Charles Dickens.

Last time I read the great Brit author I apparently missed the sado-maso whorehouse scene, the opium puffing, and the frequent use of the “f” word.  Oh, wait, that’s all stuff the creators of this miniseries cooked up to make their “Expectations” appeal to jaded modern viewers.

Also they’ve gone for multiracial casting (Estella and several other characters are played by black actors or those of Middle Eastern heritage).  

Dickens purists will find this a somewhat curdled re-enactment.  

I’m on the fence.  I’m bored stiff by our two young protagonists (Fionn Whitehead as Pip and Shalom Brune-Franklin as Estella), but I’m loving Olivia Colman’s eye-rolling/venom-dropping turn as the crazed man hater Miss Havisham.

And as is so often the case with Dickens, some of the supporting players steal the show.  I’m particularly taken with Ashley Thomas’ turn as Jaggers, the utterly amoral and endlessly scheming lawyer who takes our impressionable young hero under his wing and slickly leads him into one moral and illegal dead end after another.

Juliet Rylance, Matthew Rhys

“PERRY  MASON” (HBO Max): The second season of “Perry Mason” continues its radical retelling of its characters’ origin stories. 

Perry (Matthew Rhys) is a former drunk just embarking on an uncertain legal career; Girl Friday Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and D.A. Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk) are closeted gays.  Investigator Paul Drake (Chis Chalk) is an African American ex-cop fighting for dollars and some dignity in world that willingly gives up neither.

But the real star of the series is the way in which the show’s creators have established an atmosphere of Depression Era desperation and corruption.  This “Perry Mason” is like an eight-hour take on “Chinatown,”  a seething world of arrogant haves and scrambling have-nots, presented with a visual and aural authenticity (my God, Terence Blanchard’s jazz score!!!) unmatched in current streaming.

The plot finds Perry defending two young Mexicans charged with murdering the son of a supremely powerful (and despicable) oil magnate, but the courtroom stuff is secondary to the world established beyond the courthouse doors.

| Robert W. Butler

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